10 FTW: Movies with Ambiguous Endings

You’ve paid your money and you’ve sat down in the cinema or in front of your television; you’ve got some snacks and a drink and you’re ready to suspend your disbelief for anywhere between ninety minutes to three hours with a good, old fashioned movie. The plot is intriguing, the characters relatable, the antagonist layered, and the film’s construction has sucked you right in. Then, out of the blue, the film ends in an ambiguous way, leaving questions swimming around in your head.

For me, a great movie with an ambiguous ending that either turns the entire events that preceded it upside down or allows me to interpret what has happened makes for an extremely enjoyable experience, not least because it means that you can re-watch the movie and interpret the ending and the plot in different ways each time. Some might disagree, obviously, but I’m not them so here are ten of the best moves with interpretative endings and some of my thoughts about them:

Blade Runner
10 Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)

Kicking things off with one of the forefathers of the ambiguous ending, we’re really opening a can of worms with this one considering just how many different versions and endings exist for Blade Runner. Controversially, though, I’m not that big a fan of Blade Runner; as a film, it’s very slow and plodding, with long sections where seemingly nothing happens. This is married to some gorgeous sets and a realistic, lived-in feel to the future world we are presented with. Consequently, my Blade Runner experience begins and ends with Ridley Scott’s 2007 Final Cut version of the film, in which Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) finds an origami unicorn on the floor of his apartment, strongly hinting (as Deckard had previously dreamt of a unicorn) that Deckard is a Replicant. Apparently, this is the philosophy that Scott subscribes to though I disagree as there isn’t really any real evidence in The Final Cut to support this beyond the ambiguity of the final scene. Supporting this further, the question about Deckard’s humanity was left unanswered in Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017), despite other versions of Blade Runner hinting more strongly that Deckard was actually a Replicant all along.

Shutter Island
9 Shutter Island (Scorsese, 2010)

Throughout Shutter Island, Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is forced to confront some personal demons as he uncovers the mysterious disappearance of a patient of the asylum housed on the titular island. As events begin to unravel, we learn that Teddy is, in fact, a patient of the asylum and he was allowed to play out an elaborate fantasy in an attempt to force him to confront the truth that he murdered his wife. Despite scepticism from Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), this unconventional method appears to have finally worked as Teddy finally admits his guilt. However, later on, he appears to have regressed to his fantasy world once more, leaving the hospital no choice but to have him lobotomised. As the orderlies come to take him away, he questions whether it is worse to live as a monster or die as a good man, casting doubt as to whether he has truly regressed or simply wishes to end his sane life on a high note; personally, I prefer the latter interpretation, as that line seems a deliberate inclusion to make us think that Teddy is merely feigning his regression to “die” as a hero.

The Thing
8 John Carpenter’s The Thing (Carpenter, 1982)

This is the second time that The Thing has made one of my top ten lists, and with good reason; not only is it a masterpiece of practical effect wizardry, it’s also an excellent tale of isolation and paranoia. After uncovering an alien spacecraft and unwittingly unthawing a gruesome, shape-changing parasitic lifeform, the residents of an Antarctic research outpost succumb to paranoia and fear as the titular Thing assimilates them one by one. In the end, with the Thing seemingly destroyed and the outpost up in flames, our hero – R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) – sits alone and exhausted by a dwindling fire when he is confronted by Childs (Keith David), his hot-headed rival who had mysteriously vanished right as the chaos started to really ramp up. Also exhausted, Childs sits with MacReady and they share the remnants of a bottle of scotch, both too tired to act on their suspicions that the other might be the Thing and succumbing to the knowledge that, once the fires burn out, it won’t matter soon anyway. Doubts about who is really human are raised when one observes that, unlike MacReady, Child’s breath does not show in the freezing weather but, in this case, I feel that both are actually human and the ending has a more morbid message: both men, whether human or alien, are paying the price for human nature and that, given the volatile relationship between the two characters, it’s likely they would find any excuse to try to kill each other but are simply too fatigued to continue their hostilities.

The Descent
7 The Descent (Marshall, 2005)

The Descent was a welcome surprise when I first saw it; despite some questionable acting from the lead females, the film quickly descends (hah!) into an atmospheric, claustrophobic nightmare when six cave-diving friends find themselves trapped in an unchartered cavern and being attacked by cannibalistic mutated humans. With fear and paranoia setting in, and beset by the vicious crawlers at every turn, the party is eventually whittled down to central protagonist Sarah Carter (Shauna Macdonald) who, after being knocked unconscious, awakens to find herself before an exit and frantically scrambles free, screaming with maniacal glee as she makes it to her car and speeds away. Overcome by the gruesome events that have taken her friends from her, she pulls over and breaks down in tears, only to find the screaming corpse of her headstrong friend Juno Kaplan (Natalie Mendoza) in the passenger seat. For American audiences, this jump-scare is where the film ends but, for us Brits, the scare causes Sarah to awaken to find herself still trapped in the cave with no exit in sight and her fire slowly burning away. With no escape, and the sounds of the ferocious crawlers echoing all around her, she finds solace in a hallucination of her dead daughter as the film fades to black. If you ignore The Descent: Part 2 (Harris, 2009), which reveals that Sarah did actually escape the cave in the end (and is inexplicably convinced to return to that nightmare), this ending is a massive downer and really reflective of the differences in American and British audiences; we Brits love us a good bleak ending laced with ambiguity, as the final haunting shot raises the possibility that all of the events that occurred were a hallucination of Sarah’s to justify her slaughtering all of her friends.

Event Horizon
6 Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997)

Here’s a film that doesn’t get enough love, Event Horizon is a truly horrific science-fiction horror revolving around a spaceship that, having crossed through time and space, has returned as a semi-sentient haunted vessel that desires only to kill its inhabitants in increasingly gruesome ways and return to the hell dimension that it passed through. Event Horizon actually has two ambiguous endings: the first comes when Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) sacrifices himself to split the Event Horizon in two, allowing the remainder of his crew to be spared while he and the demonically possessed Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill in a commendably menacing role) be transported back to “Hell”. When I first watched Event Horizon, I assumed, based on Weir’s agonised “Noooo!” and the editing of this scene, that Miller had died in the ensuing explosion but, upon repeated viewing, you can clearly see the aft section of the craft disappear into a black hole, meaning that Weir was merely expressing his frustration at only taking one victim to “Hell” instead of the entire crew, making Miller’s sacrifice even more tragic as he now has to suffer unimaginable horrors. However, it doesn’t end there as the forward section of the ship is later recovered and Miller’s crew freed from stasis; upon awakening, and suffering from shock, Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson) looks upon her rescuer and sees only Weir’s scarred face grinning back at her. Descending into a screaming fit, and comforted by Cooper (Richard T. Jones), it appears as though Starck is simply severely traumatised by the horrific events she has barely survived but, as the film fades to black, the doors of the Event Horizon close by themselves, suggesting that the demonic force haunting the ship is still present.

5 The Grey (Carnahan, 2011)

Boy, was this film a surprise. Given the odd marketing campaign, you would be forgiven for going into The Grey believing it was simply about Liam Neeson fighting wolves but it is so much more than that. Haunted by the death of his wife, John Ottway (Neeson) is struggling with suicidal tendencies when the plane he is flying on crashes in the middle of the frozen Alasakan wilderness. With limited resources, tensions running high, and a pack of ravenous wolves stalking them at every turn, Ottway is forced to rely on his survival instincts and knowledge of wolves to lead the survivors in a seemingly hopeless search for safety. Inexplicably surviving what appears to be an unsurvivable plane crash potentially gave Ottway a concussion, however, as it is eventually revealed, once all of the other survivors have tragically perished due to injuries, the elements, or the increasingly emboldened wolves, that he has been heading directly towards the wolves’ den the entire time. Left alone and forced to confront the Alpha Male, Neeson straps broken bottles and other make-shift weaponry to his fists and prepares to fight to the death as the film abruptly cuts to black. A brief after credits scenes offers little in the way of closure, affording only a glimpse of what appears to be Ottway resting atop a slowly dying wolf, leaving the character’s ultimate fate entirely up to the interpretation of the viewer. I honestly understand the negative backlash this caused as the marketing made a big deal out of the showdown between Neeson and the Alpha, man against nature, and all that but, honestly, when I first saw it and Ottway was reciting his father’s beloved poem, burying the wallets of his fallen comrades, and preparing to fight to the death with a voracious wolf…man tears, every time. I always like to think that there was only ever going to be one outcome: Ottway put up a great fight but was ultimately killed by either the Alpha or one of the other wolves. Yet the short scene after the credits presents the slim possibility that Ottway survived the battle, if with serious injuries, allowing those who prefer a more positive ending to believe that he came out victorious and is merely exhausted from the conflict.

4 Total Recall (Verhoeven, 1990)

Can we stop for a second and recognise that Total Recall is still one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever created? Honestly, this movie has aged incredibly well; it’s use of practical effects, model shots, the rising action and over-the-top fight scenes, all married with two truly memorable villains and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s undeniable charisma make for one of the best action/sci-fi experience ever conceived. That it also presents an extremely and surprisingly complex and deep narrative only adds to its stature, in my mind. Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is obsessed with Mars, dreaming of it every night and is so desperate to visit the red planet that he pays a visit to Rekall Inc. to purchase a memory implant of having vacationed for two weeks as an undercover secret agent. Immediately however, there are complications; Quaid goes psychotic during the procedure and is suddenly attacked by friends and foes alike for no discernible reason. Eventually driven to Mars, he learns that he was once Hauser, a former employee of the villainous Vilo Cohaagen (the wonderful Ronny Cox) who volunteered to have his memory wiped so that Cohaagen and his sadistic enforcer, Richter (fantastically portrayed by Michael Ironside), could wipe out the rebellion opposing his authority on Mars.

Rejecting his former life, Quaid opts instead to activate an alien device that provides Mars with a breathable atmosphere, freeing the populace from Cohaagen’s air tax and ending the film with a conspicuous white light as Quaid shares a kiss with his dream woman, Melina (Rachel Ticotin). I say conspicuous because, traditionally, films end on a fade to black and this is only one of many indications that the events we have witnessed are not entirely what they seem. At Rekall Inc., Quaid tailors the memory he will receive to the finest detail, describing Melina as his love interest, viewing pictures of places he later visits on Mars, and being told that the vacation will involve him overcoming an interplanetary conspiracy. Later, Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) attempts to convince Quaid that everything he is witnessing is a free-form delusion that he has allowed himself to be trapped in and that, unless he chooses to wake up, he will end up lobotomised. Quaid rejects this when he notices that Edgemar is clearly sweating with fear and discomfort and, in doing so, commits himself to seeing his path towards being the saviour of Mars. Total Recall presents both possibilities simultaneously; the over-the-top action and increasingly coincidental set pieces lend a credibility to Edgemar’s claim that Quaid is trapped in a dream world but scenes where Quaid is entirely absent, such as during conversations between Cohaagen and Richter, suggest that the plot against Quiad is very real. In the end, the white out could simply be a sign of a new beginning for Mars or the brain cells in Quaid’s head dying from psychosis; sometimes I will watch the film and believe that Quaid is a former mercenary turned rebel leader and, others, I choose to believe that he has simply allowed himself to be lost to an extremely realistic dream.

The Wrestler
3 The Wrestler (Aronofsky, 2008)

After years in obscurity, Mickey Rourke began a bit of a comeback in the mid-to-late-2000s and perhaps no other role really showed how much he had matured and was ready to be taken seriously as an actor than that of Robin Ramzinski (AKA Randy “The Ram” Robinson). Ram, his best years as an athlete behind him, has fallen on hard times and really been through the wringer; he is estranged from his daughter (the delectable Evan Rachel Wood), in constant pain, works a menial job where he is the source of constant ridicule, and is forced to take bookings in venues barely a quarter of the size he was headlining in his prime. After he suffers a heart attack and is advised that he must never wrestle again, Ram takes the advice to heart and begins reconciling with his daughter and trying to make a future with his only confidante, an ageing stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). In the end, though, after a drink and drug filled bender causes his daughter to sever all ties with him, Ram returns to the one place he has only ever felt loved and valuable, the ring, knowing full well that it could be not only his last match but the last decision he ever makes. During a rematch against his greatest opponent, the Ayatollah (Ernest Miller), Ram begins to suffer chest pains and is in considerable visible pain. Despite the Ayatollah’s concerns and pleas to end the match quickly, Ram fights through the pain and disorientation to mount the top rope and leap into the air as the film cuts to black. Did Ram make the splash, win the match, and walk away victorious or did he crash in a dying heap on his fallen adversary? Honestly, considering the poor hand Ram has been dealt in his twilight years, I actually prefer the idea of him going out in a blaze of glory than living through another heart attack and having only a resentful daughter and a guilt-filled stripper to wake up to.

American Psycho
2 American Psycho (Harron, 2000)

Adapted from the book of the same name by Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho is an incredibly enjoyable dark comedy revolving around Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) who, by day, enjoys the frivolities of greed, sex, and consumerism but, by night, stalks the streets for victims to kill. Fully acknowledging that his urge to kill is a deep-rooted psychological disorder over which he is slowly losing control, Bateman takes out his frustrations at being mistaken for other co-workers, his fiancée’s infidelity, and his peers having better positions, clientèle, and even business cards by murdering co-workers, vagrants, and prostitutes. Eventually, his urges become too much to contain and he embarks on a killing spree throughout the city night, shooting innocent bystanders left and right before finally calling his lawyer (Stephen Bogaert) and, through maniacal tears, listing his numerous transgressions in a frantic confession. However, the next morning, his lawyer fails to recognise Bateman, believing him to be a man named Davis and that the call was an elaborate prank, reasoning that Bateman is far too spineless to engage in such activity.

Bateman calmly states that he not only committed the crimes he confessed to but enjoyed them, only for his lawyer to brush him off. Returning to his seat, Bateman reasons that, despite his confession, he has learned nothing about himself or the world and that the hollow emptiness he feels inside has only grow larger as a result of his actions. However, it is left up to the audience to decide whether the increasingly elaborate events we have witnessed actually took place or if they were simply the deluded fantasies of a bored, morbid, and repressed individual (further exemplified by his secretary, Jean (Chloë Sevigny), finding Bateman’s journal filled with doodles depicting murder and rape). Prior to visiting his lawyer, Bateman attempts to clean up the apartment of one of his victims, only to find it in pristine condition and being sold by a realtor, who reacts to Bateman’s presence with a clear discomfort, if not fear, suggesting that the gruesome murder actually took place. For me, as a big fan of the film and the book (which provides few answers and raises more questions, if anything), I like to think that some of the murders took place but maybe not all of them; given that Bateman and his co-workers are completely interchangeable and the dark satire at work in the film, I think it’s entirely possible that Bateman is so incredibly repressed and striving for attention and to stand out that he has killed vagrants and prostitutes but, in doing so, has simply allowed his dark fantasies to conjure increasingly elaborate murders and scenarios to distract him from the fact that he is nothing more than a faceless corporate snob amidst a sea of faceless corporate snobs.

Inception
1 Inception (Nolan, 2010)

Perhaps one of cinema’s most unique and original ideas since The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999), Inception presents a world in which thieves like Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) can enter a person’s dreams and subconscious to extract information. Unable to return to his children due to his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), having framed him for her suicide, Dom is tasked with putting together a team and planting an idea in the head of the heir to a business empire in exchange for his criminal record being expunged. Inception takes full advantage of modern effects and technology to realise the infinite possibilities of the dream world, allowing reality to bend and warp in unique ways. As Dom and his crew are forced to dream within a dream, the film plays with perceptions of time as much as reality as Dom risks losing himself to the elaborate dream world he has created. Eventually, Dom confronts his demons and completes his mission, passing through customs without a hitch. All throughout the movie Dom has been haunted by not only his wife’s suicide but also the fact that he left in such a hurry that he was denied one final look at his children’s faces. Returning home, as Hans Zimmer’s powerful score builds to what appears to be a victorious crescendo, Dom, frantic to prove that his dreams have actually come true, conducts one final test, setting off a spinning top that will topple over if he is in the real world and spin indefinitely in the dream world. However, he never stays to see their result, as, finally, he sees his children and they not only turn to face him but run, overjoyed, into his arms. As he carries them out of frame and the score fades down, the shot lingers on Dom’s spinning top as it spins and spins and spins…faltering only slightly as the film cuts to black.

If The Grey brought out the man tears when I first watched it, Inception opened an absolute floodgate! I never thought that I would care so much about whether Leonardo DiCaprio got a happy ending but Nolan really sucked me into this world and had me so emotionally invested in all of his characters, especially DiCaprio’s Dom. The composition of this final shot, with the score and the sense of catharsis, never fails to be overwhelming; I was so happy to see him finally see his children’s faces and was on the edge of my seat waiting to see the top topple over and truly saddened that it didn’t because, in that first viewing, my knee-jerk reaction was that Dom had gotten lost in the deepest layers of his dream and had chosen fantasy over reality. However, the ambiguity of the ending allows one to view this film similar to Total Recall; you can watch it one time and believe that Dom emerges victorious or choose the depressing ending if you wish. Evidence can be found for both: it is said that one must had a totem unique to them but Dom carries and uses his dead wife’s spinning top as his totem.

It equally seems unlikely that Dom’s client would have the connections necessary to wipe his criminal record clean, and Dom is repeatedly told that he has to “wake up” and “face reality”, as though he has been trapped in a dream ever since he and Mal first experimented with deep dreaming. However, I felt so strongly for Dom and wanted so badly for him to see his kids and return home that it is hard to not believe that everything worked out for him…if not for that damn spinning top, endlessly spinning away, casting doubt over everything except for the fact that, in that moment, Dom does not care whether he is dreaming or awake; whatever the case, he has accepted this as reality without even a cursory look back.

10 FTW: Surprisingly Good Horror Remakes

We’ve heard it all a thousand times by now: “when will Hollywood stop with the remakes!?”, “Why can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas!?”, “Remakes suxxorz1!!” Honestly, while some films should never be re-made and some remakes do baffle the mind, remakes aren’t the plague of cinema that a lot of people like to think they are. In fact, some are pretty damn good.

If you’re one of those bleeding heart Twitter people, though, who just like to decry remakes in general, maybe you should take a moment to consider this small list of horror remakes that are not only surprisingly good but, in some cases, actually surpass their originals:

Halloween
10 Halloween (Zombie, 2007)

We’re kicking things off with quite the controversial choice here. I’ll argue until the end of time that John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) is the forefather of all modern horror, particularly the slasher genre. It’s a subtle, atmospheric piece with a fantastic, mysterious antagonist and the truly frightening prospect that random unspeakable acts of horror can happen in a suburban environment. Rob Zombie’s take, however, is a loud, frenetic, uncomfortably gruesome take on the property. Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch/Tyler Mane) is an incredibly disturbed young boy from a violent and abusive family who becomes a remorseless, emotionless, unstoppable tank of a killing machine. Zombie delves right into his own take on Michael’s backstory, presenting in grotesque detail the exact events that turn Michael into a nigh-supernatural killer.

In many ways, the initial focus of the film acts as a kind of prequel to the events of Carpenter’s original, as the remainder of the film’s runtime is devoted to recreating Michael’s killing spree in Haddonfield, with the primary difference being that nearly the entirety of the film is told from Michael’s perspective. Sure, Malcolm McDowell, great as he is, cannot hope to compete with the fantastic Donald Pleasence but the film is bolstered by the incredibly cute Scout Taylor-Compton (who is arguably more attractive and relatable to modern audiences than Jamie Lee Curtis) and even appearances by Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris (and what an appearance hers is!) While it’s unlikely to be as iconic or influential as Carpenter’s benchmark film, for those who find the original and its sequels dated and slow, Rob Zombie’s remake is a much-needed kick up the ass that, for better or worse, dragged Halloween kicking and screaming out of obscurity.

Poltergeist
9 Poltergeist (Kenan, 2015)

I know, right? How could Hollywood ever even entertain the idea of remaking Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg’s 1982 horror classic? Well, they did, and don’t be mistaken; it’s not actually that bad. While it lacks probably my favourite scene from the original, where corpses rise from the Freeman’s unfinished swimming pool, the remake is just as terrifying and engaging as the original, with the added bonus of having a modern-day make-over that is far more accessible than the now-dated original. Don’t get me wrong, the original is still a classic, but Sam Rockwell and Kennedi Clements put in some great performances, easily on par with those of Craig T. Nelson and the late JoBeth Williams. Did Poltergeist necessarily need a remake? Probably not, and the fact that numerous haunted house stories since the original have all pulled from or mirrored Hooper’s seminal horror classic probably didn’t help to differentiate Kenan’s new take on the property, but I feel it’s a largely misrepresented film that is nowhere near as bad as some people think.

It
8 It (Muschietti, 2017)

Although I spoke about this film quite recently, it is deserving enough to make this list. Watching Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries, great as it is and as amazing as Tim Curry’s performance in that is, you can’t help but think that Stephen King’s novel deserved to be told without the restraints of a television miniseries. Focusing exclusively on the child side of King’s story, and bringing the events forward to the 1980s rather than the 1950s, Muschietti adheres closely to King’s text while still putting his own spin on events. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is suitably unsettingly and otherworldly; what he lacks in Curry’s charisma he more than makes up for by being genuinely creepy and a fearsome menace. Muschietti also focuses on the friendship and troubles of his child protagonists incredibly well, anchoring them to the film’s central narrative and allowing King’s themes of childhood and loss of innocence to play out beautifully. With a lengthy runtime and concluding on a fantastic tease for a second chapter, this new version of It, while not without its issues (primarily regarding screen time for the many characters), did not disappoint in realising the gruesome potential that the miniseries could only hint at.

7 Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004)

Released at the peak of Hollywood’s new-found fondness for zombie films in the early-to-mid-2000s, largely spearheaded by 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002) and the God-awful Resident Evil (Anderson, 2002) and its decent-enough sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (ibid, 2004), Zack Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s massively-influential 1978 film of the same name takes the general themes and premise of its source material and ramps them up with some incredible action, grotesque gore effects, and a much-needed modern day gloss. While zombie purists may lament the inclusion of the fast-moving, animalistic undead introduced in 28 Days Later, Snyder’s rapid editing and penchant for style over substance make the creatures more vicious and scary than in Romero’s original film. With some great supporting performances by the likes of Ving Rhames and Michael Kelly (and even a brief cameo by Ken Foree, repeating his iconic line from the original film), Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a non-stop masterpiece of zombie cinema that never slows down to the snail’s pace that Romero’s introspective original prefers to adopt.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)

One of the primary reasons I was inspired to make this list, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) was a film that desperately needed this remake! Seriously, the original might have been shocking and gruesome at the time but, since then, it has not aged well; it’s a slow, dull piece of cinema that drags on way too long, with questionable acting and a lifeless soundtrack. The only redeeming quality comes from the maniacal Sawyer family, and even they are a hooting, loud bunch of camp. Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, which would go on to be responsible for a variety of horror remakes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much better than it had any right to be. With an uncomfortable gradient, shocking soundtrack, and even some decent performances by Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour, Nispel’s remake downplays the cannibalistic nature of the franchise in favour of grotesque torture-porn levels of horror.

While the film reintroduces Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), one of horror’s most iconic figures, and even suggests a tragic backstory for the character, Nispel’s Chainsaw brought us one of the most despicable and significant horror icons in years in the form of Sherriff Hoyt (masterfully embodied by the great R. Lee Ermey). Hoyt, a tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed sadist, drives the plot of this remake, raises its quality to another level, and his popularity was arguably responsible for the equally-enjoyable prequel, The Texas Chain saw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006). On a side note, though, am I the only one shocked that, including remakes and reimaginings, the Chainsaw franchise is made up of eight separate movies? Crazy!

The Blob
5 The Blob (Russell, 1988)

Now we’re getting somewhere! Irvin Yeaworth’s original 1958 film, starring Steve McQueen, was a campy piece of B-movie mush that has come to resemble a comedy more than a science-fiction piece. Channelling the likes of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, Chuck Russell’s reimagining, however, takes the story of the bulbous alien lifeform to far more grotesque levels. Incorporating some incredibly disgusting practical effects, the population of a small town is literally dissolved by the titular amoeba. Although some of the composite shots are obviously dated by today’s standards, an entirely CGI rendition of the Blob would probably have aged incredibly poorly by now. Instead, The Blob retains a level of camp in its premise but, with its gruesome effects and no-nonsense attitude, is a great example of how effective and impactful practical effects can be.

Friday the 13th
4 Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

We’re back with Marcus Nispel and Platinum Dunes for this masterfully well-crafted remake of not only the original 1980 classic but, also, the first three sequels. Similar to Halloween, for those who find the original movies to be dated and cut-and-pasted, by-the-numbers slasher films with very little to differentiate them from each other until Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985) then this is the film for you! In fact, I often encourage newcomers to the franchise to watch this film and then jump straight to Jason Lives! Friday the 13th Part VI (McLoughlin, 1986); not because the continuity would tie together but, by doing that, you watch one kick-ass film with loads of gratuitous mid-2000s sex (which is far more graphic, enjoyable, and realistic than sex scenes from the 1980s) and horror imagery that sums up the first four entries of the franchise incredibly well and then you can delve into the enjoyable nonsense of zombie Jason Voorhees.

Beginning with the brutal decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) and detailing how Jason (Caleb Guss/Derek Mears) witnessed her murder and grew up alone in the wooded forests of Camp Crystal Lake, as well as detailing Jason’s transformation from the lesser-known burlap sack look to the now-iconic hockey mask, Friday the 13th is filled with some incredibly gruesome kills as Jason uses bear traps, snares, and other tricks to entrap and kill hapless teenagers all over the shop. Add to that some strong performances by Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, and Jared Padalecki and you have an intense, non-stop horror film that, like Jason, comes at you a mile a minute. Honestly, the only bad thing I have to say about this film is that, despite making $92.7 million on a budget of $19 million, we never saw a sequel; even Rob Zombie’s Halloween got a shitty sequel!

The Thing
3 John Carpenter’s The Thing (Carpenter, 1982) and The Thing (Heijningen Jr, 2011)

Here’s some more controversy for you: I actually liked Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s version of The Thing. It starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who I absolutely adore, and, while marketed as a remake, was actually, ingeniously, a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror/sci-fi classic. Based exclusively on a brief scene from Carpenter’s film, van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing details how a Norwegian research team unearth an extraterrestrial craft and unwittingly awaken a shape-changing, parasitic alien lifeform and concludes with the survivors attempting to hunt down and eliminate the creature’s final form, which leads directly into the beginning of Carpenter’s The Thing.

Drawing loosely from both Christian Nyby’s 1952 B-movie classic The Thing From Another World! and the story that inspired it, Who Goes There? (Campbell, 1938), John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the quintessential examples of the effectiveness of practical special effects to the horror genre. Kurt Russell and Keith David lead the charge when their small Antarctic outpost is slowly assimilated by the titular alien creature, leaving the survivors to descend into distrust and anarchy as they struggle to fight off the ever-growing menace both outside and within their number. Carpenter’s film features some truly incredibly moments of practical effects wizardry, from a torso sprouting razor sharp teeth, to a severed head growing spider-like appendages and a dog literally splitting in two as tentacles blast out from its head; yet, while its similarly-impressive practical effects were tampered with in post-production, I never felt like Heijningen Jr’s The Thing was sub-par to Carpenter’s film. Instead, it works amazing well as a companion piece, allowing one to binge-watch both movies side-by-side and be suitably entertained.

Evil Dead
2 Evil Dead (Alvarez, 2013)

Similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sam Raimi’s landmark 1981 horror film The Evil Dead was in desperate need of a remake. Sure, the stop-motion, puppetry, and practical effects were great considering the limited time and budget Raimi had available to him but, over time, neither they nor the acting have aged incredibly well. In fact, for me, Evil Dead II (Raimi, 1987), which retells the events of the original in its opening moments, already surpassed Raimi’s original film by leaps and bounds: Ash (epitomised by Bruce Campbell) is a far more capable, well-rounded character, the effects are much better, and the film adopts a quirky style of black comedy that was sorely missing in the original. Fast forward to 2013 and, rather than attempt to emulate Raimi’s black comedy style, Fede Alvarez approaches his remake with an intense seriousness.

The horror is brutal and horrendous to look at; there’s no laughing deer heads here. Instead, characters saw their arms off, are attacked by nail guns, get beaten by crowbars, and are forced to tear their arms off at the elbow in gruesome fashion. The plot is largely the same, with a group of largely likeable characters accidentally awakening an ancient evil, but the stakes are much higher; here, the evil seeks to take on a physical form and bring about the apocalypse whereas in Raimi’s original film it simply wanted to claim the souls of those trapped in the cabin. While it lacks a character as iconic as Ash, Evil Dead makes up for it with some truly difficult to watch moments that are both sickening and perversely entertaining; even Raimi’s controversial tree rape scene is included and utilised in a far more effective and plot-relevant way and that alone is reason enough to place this film over the original, in my view.

The Fly
1 The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)

This is it, the quintessential argument that not all remakes are bad and that they can, in some cases, vastly surpass their originals. While Kurt Neumann’s 1958 film of the same name may be closer to the original story and is still a pretty decent piece of 1950s science-fiction, despite its now campy tone, Cronenberg took the idea of a man teleporting himself with a fly and took it to whole new levels. Before, the man bore the head and arm of the fly as a result of the accident and slowly deteriorated into madness; here, though, thanks largely to an absolutely stellar performance by the always-amazing Jeff Goldblum, Cronenberg details the physical and mental degradation of his main character, Seth Brundle, in painstakingly brutal detail. Brundle, a brilliant scientist, initially embraces his newfound physical attributes before realising that he has been stricken by an infection on a cellular level not unlike AIDS or cancer. Soon, his body deteriorates at an alarming rate, with top-notch special effects being employed to make Goldblum practically unrecognisable through heavy make-up and full-body prosthetics.

As he alienates those around him, Brundle’s mind also begins to depreciate; initially desperate to reverse the effects, he soon comes to believe that he was never a man to begin with and prepares a gruesome legacy for himself whereby he will merge his crippled body with that of his lover (a strong, heartwrenching performance by Geena Davis) and his unborn child. In the process, he not only dissolves his rival’s hand and foot with corrosive fly vomit but literally bursts out of the remains of his decrepit human skin to emerge as a grotesque fly-like creature, before finally, tragically, forcing his lover to end his torment. The Fly transcends boundaries; it is a horrific tale of science gone wrong, a body horror with terrifying consequences but, at its heart, it is also an extremely tragic love story. Cronenberg did what many fail to do with their remakes; he took the original concept and not only put his own spin on it but also transformed it into something entirely separate from the source material and yet vastly superior to it in many ways.

Arguably, remakes like A Nightmare on Elm Street (Bayer, 2010) (which attempted to put a unique spin on the franchise and ended up becoming a carbon-copy retelling of Wes Craven’s seminal 1984 original), Total Recall (Wiseman, 2012), RoboCop (Padilha, 2014) could really learn a thing or two from The Fly, and many of the remakes on this list. If you’re going to remake a movie, don’t just retread the same material as before; go back to the source, back to the text, and either produce a more faithful adaptation or extrapolate the core themes and general premise and produce a great movie, rather than a simple, insulting cash-grab.